SRINAGAR: In absence of any direction from the government regarding future use of Tosmaidan meadow-turned-firing range, the people at central Kashmir’s Budgam district are ‘throwing open’ the picturesque highland for tourism.
On Saturday, the people from Tosmaidan and its adjoining villages, led by Tosmaidan Bachao Front (TBF) and the local Panchayat members’ association are organising a “celebration event” at the meadow itself for “declaring it open for tourism.”
The move, if allowed by the authorities, from the people, who have been campaigning against use of the meadow as a firing range, comes about two months after expiry of the lease deed that allowed use of Tosmaidan as a firing range by the Indian army since 1964.
“The government has time and again announced that use of Tosmaidan as a firing range will not be allowed, but a written order to this effect was never produced,” Dr Sheikh Ghulam Rasool of TBF told Kashmir Reader on Thursday.
“So, we have decided to take government’s silence as a nod for using the meadow as a tourist destination, and we are organising the programme to celebrate it. In the same programme, we, as residents of the area, will declare it open for tourism.”
Tosmaidan, a high-altitude meadow located in Budgam, was leased out by the state government to the Indian army in 1964, allowing its use as a firing range by the latter. Each summer ever since, the army has been practicing firing of heavy artillery at the range, indirectly resulting in deaths to at least 65 civilians.
Last year, when the expiry of the lease deed was near, the villagers from the district started seeking culmination of the lease, and subsequent declaration of the meadow as a tourist destination. And partly agreeing to their demands, the government verbally announced that the lease will not be extended as is being demanded by the army. A committee led by Chief Secretary stands constituted to identify the alternate sites that can be used as firing range by the army.
So far this year, as per Dr Rasool, the army hasn’t returned to Tosmaidan, and nor has it carried out firing practice there.
The development has encouraged the organisers to hold the programme at the spot near Shonglipora where the army used to set up its base camp.
“We are staging our programme at Tosmaidan itself. At the spot where the army used to set up its base camp, the people from all adjoining villages will gather and stage cultural programmes to mark the start of ‘tourist activities’ at the meadow,” Dr Rasool, who has been closely following the developments regarding Tosmaidan, said.
The list of people’s demands also included compensation to the victims who have lost their life or limbs due to artillery firing over the years, and a cleansing drive to free the area of residual explosives.
“We stick to our demands. But for now, we are reversing the trend by throwing Tosmaidan open to tourism rather than waiting for the government to do it,” he said.